Closing the gap

The tide has begun to turn for lower-income workers who struggle to make ends meet in Queens.

The governor recommended the minimum wage should rise to $15 an hour by 2021 in increments from $8.75 today for fast-food workers across the state in a move that is expected to spread to other industries.

The movement for fairer wages was launched in Times Square three years ago when the city’s fast-food workers held their first rally to push for a bigger slice of the improving economy. It’s far too early to predict the impact of higher paychecks on Queens, since some companies may trim payrolls and others may raise prices to compensate for the hikes, but the message has been sent loud and clear to the working public: Your voices have been heard.

But for the working poor who flip burgers and brew coffee for national chains in Queens, the gradual 40 percent raise in wages may let them move off welfare and get a foot up on the economic ladder.

In 2014 Queens led the other boroughs with a poverty rate of 22 percent—a dramatic rise from 16 percent in 2008, according to the Center for Economic Opportunity. The poverty line for a Queens family of four was $24,250, based on U.S. numbers.

At $8.75 an hour a head of household working 40 hours a week now earns $18,200 a year, but at the new $15 rate annual income that would jump to $31,200—well above the poverty line.

In another sign that the forgotten worker is making inroads, more than 1,200 airport workers employed by Delta called off a 24-hour strike recently at Kennedy and LaGuardia when they reached agreement with their employer to allow them to negotiate on joining a union. 32BJ SEIU pledged to press the Port Authority to boost the workers’ wages to $15 an hour. For the first time airport security workers had joined in the action.

President Obama’s efforts to close the income gap and level the playing field for the less fortunate were felt last month in Queensbridge, the nation’s largest public housing complex, which will get free high-speed Internet access. Mayor de Blasio announced the $10 million pilot project, part of Obama’s ConnectHome Initiative that taps service providers, nonprofits and the private sector. As part of the program, Queensbridge residents will be given technical training to operate in the digital world.

The Center for Economic Opportunity found that 36 percent of city households below the poverty line do not have Internet service, a sobering statistic for children faced with homework and adults looking for jobs.

It’s time for a change.

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